Michael Brecker on one’s individual sound

A friend sent me a link to a YouTube video with Michel Brecker talking about different topics as part of what looked like a panel discussion. The entire video is: https://youtu.be/Ah0f34pWrSQ

I thought I’d highlight one short segment for you. At the very end, he spoke briefly about being comfortable with one’s own unique sound, warts and all.

“It’s hard for me to hear my own sound as identifiable because I’m used to it, you know, I live with it every day. So, it’s hard for me to hear it that way, but I think for someone else, maybe it’s not so hard.

This is a tough one and I don’t even know if I can articulate it.

Accept that what it is about you is okay. To let that be and not change it. 

Even though we’re all emotionally very similarly constructed, you know, we’re all human beings, but we each have our own specialness and it’s being okay with that and not trying to change it.

 Because then that’s different for someone else. When someone else hears [your sound], that’s not part of their reality. And I try and keep that in mind with my sound. There are times that there are things that I don’t like in my sound, but I have to remember, “But wait a minute, but maybe this is who I am. Maybe that’s okay.”

In case you’d like to be reminded of Michael’s unmistakable sound, here’s a great example from the Richie Beirach album called Inborn. According the Richie, Michael came straight in from another recording, looked at the music for the first time, and sight-read the piece beautifully, as you will hear.

It may be tempting for you to dismiss this as, “Well, that’s Michael Brecker. On his worst day, he’ll sound 1,000 better than me, so he can easily get past his tiny imperfections.”

But that misses his point. Don’t chase after someone else’s sound. Instead find yours and work on it within the limits of the effort you are willing to extend.

If you find yourself picking at your imperfections, ask yourself: is it because you are falling short of the personal sound you hear for yourself, or is it because you are falling short of sounding like someone else whose approach and sound you are chasing after?

I’ll leave you with a 3-minute ‘lesson’ within the Pocket Jazz course. This one consists of three great jazz musicians providing their take on finding one’s unique musical voice.

If you’d like to check out the entire completely free course on jazz improvisation, click below:

2 thoughts on “Michael Brecker on one’s individual sound”

  1. These are important and useful insights! When I listen back to recordings of myself, it’s not so much about falling short of a sound I’m going for or picking at slight imperfections (although I’ve become much more “attuned” to slight intonational discrepancies). It’s more about predictability, not in the sense of being cliched, but more in the sense of being able to predict what I’m going to play next. Well yeah, it’s ME; I know my playing best. To the rest of the world, though, it’s all new, because they’re not me. Not sure who said this, but it’s important to keep ijn mind: “No one is as good at being you as you are!”

  2. One way I advocate for playing fresh and breaking out of the predictable is to find a different place to practice and to practice something new. If you play with a group, play tunes in different keys. You can practice with Band in a Box and set the key to B or E! That will force something different from your instrument. Also, I recommend practicing without written music for an entire practice session. Not every one, but at least once in a while.

    Watch this as an example for finding new perspective in your practice space: https://vimeo.com/733389338

    In fact, I’m headed up there right now. Feel free to join me!!

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Michael Lake

Michael Lake

Trombonist, author, composer, marketer

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This is just a fake book example for the type of website I can build for you. Just trying to use a little humor here!